Talus and the Frozen King is a fantasy novel set in the Neolithic Age, where people like intelligent detectives, philosophers and adventurers with gifts of rational and logical observations were rare. The cover of the book however, shows not a Neolithic man, rather a more medieval looking man. The armor is too sophisticated. An error in itself. Also I saw no elements of fantasy in the book. There are concepts of spirits and the afterlife, but nothing to place it in the fantasy genre. This book was a Historical Mystery to me.
Talus and his companion Bran are the Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson of the Stone Age. The similarities and character traits are too obvious to overlook. Now whether this is deliberate, a copy or an homage didn’t make much of a difference to me, though it obviously makes it difficult to not draw comparisons instinctively. However, my observations have nothing to do with this issue.
Talus is a mysterious, highly intelligent bard accompanied by his friend Bran on a journey to the far north. They are following the Aurora Borealis in the hopes that it will lead them to a place where, they’ve been told, worlds meet and time converges; where they may find answers to their own personal quests.
Bran, a former fisherman, is almost at the end of his tether, travelling in the harsh, barren lands in extreme winter. He has lost the drive to seek the mysterious place. But before he can leave, he and Talus hear wild screaming coming from an island down the cliff where they stopped for the night. Talus persuades Bran to check out the dangerous looking island to see what ails the people on it.
They find the island’s king sitting frozen on the ground, naked, surrounded by the villagers. The wailing they heard was the mourning women. Talus quickly deduces, to everyone’s shock that the king was murdered, not frozen to death, and convinces his son, the king-to-be, to let him find the murderer so he can answer for his crime.
The rest of the story is about how Talus, through his observations, draws logical conclusions and finds out information to solve the mystery. Bran is his short tempered friend, with a few demons of his own, who though a bit slow, manages to see and understand things that escape Talus. Together they get embroiled in the lives of the people of that disturbing island, whose shadows are not safe for anyone.
Talus and the Frozen King is mostly a well written novel with an interesting and fairly intricate plot. The world building is well done, and the story very atmospheric. From the very beginning you sense that Creyak is a creepy, uneasy place and it remains so throughout the book.
There are just two female characters in the novel and both are strong, intelligent women who add depth to the story. I really liked that they weren’t the helpless kind or barely there characters.
Coming to the protagonist, Talus is a bard and of course, he narrates a few stories in the novel. I found him to be an unimpressive bard. His language did not seem all that different from the others, but more than that, his storytelling skills were nothing to boast about. When you have a setting and atmosphere like this one, and the character is narrating something, the stage is set for something great. Something that pulls you in, where the words twine and twist through the air, weaving a web of sensations and rapture. Talus failed, quite badly. His oratory was not strong, and his tales too short, some even incomplete and interrupted.
Even his roundabout conversations with fellow humans, especially when he is explaining a clue, or an obvious fact, weren’t always pleasing and fun. And most of the time as the novel was moving towards the end and the answer, his explanations were half formed, incomplete. Too many distractions and cuts to delay the reveal, hence frustrating. Talus’s cleverness had a forced quality to it. The withholding of information from others and hence us, got a little irritating after a while and made the conversations, the transition in scenes and the story stilted and wandering. This led to Talus not being as impressive as his fellow characters and the author make him out to be.
Bran is a little too stupid for my liking even though he contributes to the solving of the mystery in a way Talus can’t. He understands human emotions and sees their connections. But most of the time, he’s impatient and foolish. His tragic back story makes you sympathise. However I didn’t like his attraction to, and fascination with, a female character simply because of her resemblance to someone in his past, and found it unnecessary. And I didn’t feel the chemistry between him and Talus. You don’t feel the bond that forged between them in the past and which has kept them together as a team.
There were also a few contradictions and mistakes on the characters’ observations and reactions. The story began well. But as it hurtled towards the end, it was too rushed. The mystery itself was going at a languid pace even as the action wasn’t, which was frustrating. The answer was forcibly delayed and interrupted constantly.
Another issue was that the characters seemed to not require sleep. Talus and Bran were already exhausted when they came to the island, and yet they don’t sleep for even a few hours for the next few days. They are constantly on the move from one part of the village to another, or doing something or other.
The surprise twist at the end was a definite shocker. It was completely unexpected. Overall the story had promise but it has been weakly characterised and fails at execution. I hope the second book is better.